Young Catholic Sisters to Gather in St. Louis

More than 80 young Catholic sisters will gather at the end of this week in St. Louis for a national gathering of Giving Voice, an organization formed by and for young Catholic sisters. 

Giving Voice was founded in 1997 by a group of sisters looking for support from their own age group. Though the overall number of women religious in the United States is in decline, young women are very much still answering the call to the religious life. 

The number of women entering religious life is much smaller than the number of congregations of women in the U.S. As a result, younger sisters sometimes find only one or two others from their own age group in their congregation. 

Sister Nicole Trahan, a member of the Marianist Sisters appreciates living with sisters from different generations, but has appreciated the support she has through Giving Voice.  “I enjoy being a part of and living in an intergenerational community. There have been many graces because of the intergenerationality,” She says, “However, it is a gift to be with women who come from similar contexts and have had similar influences on their lives.” 

One way to develop closer companionship with other young sisters is to build networks of support across congregations, something some women see as the future of religious life. 

Trahan says, Giving Voice has been a true gift in my life. These are women with whom I have much in common, even though we come from different congregations. Because we are peers, we share common language and experiences. We have similar questions and dreams for our lives, for the Church and for our world.” 

Sister Kathryn Press, a member of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is one of the organizers for this month’s national gathering. She says “Giving Voice is a peer-led, grassroots national organization of Catholic Sisters under the age of 50 that creates spaces for younger women religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams and challenges in religious life.” Aside from the national gathering, Giving Voice hosts annual retreats for sisters in their 20s-30s and others for sisters in their 40s-50s. 

In an interview on the Giving Voice website, Sister Kristin Matthes SDN, a founding member of Giving Voice, says that, “so often in our own communities we can be overwhelmed by the narrative of scarcity. Giving Voice allows for the narrative of abundance to happen. And being in that space with peers really helps make abundance possible.”

Sister Kathryn is looking forward to the national gathering as a chance to simply “be with so many sisters.” She says, “This group of sisters is vibrant, active, and alive with their faith and their vocations. It’s life-giving to be a part of it.” 

This year’s national gathering theme centers on building communion. Sister Nicole is especially excited for these conversations. “I think it’s important for us to reflect on our call to be experts in communion and to be bridge builders in our Church and in our society right now,” she said. 

The Jesuit Post will be hosting a Facebook Live conversation with sisters during the national gathering. That conversation will take place on Thursday June 28 at 7:30pm Central Standard Time. Make to check out our Facebook page on Thursday to hear more about these young sisters, their vocations, and their dreams for the future. 

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Ignatian “Summer Soul” Workout Plan: Part 1

During these summer days many are going to consider renewing their commitments to that legendary “Summer Bod”…

But what about that “Summer Soul”?  

Are they more connected than we think?

The connection between physical and spiritual exercise is nothing new. St. Ignatius of Loyola begins his famous Spiritual Exercise manual with the following note: “…For as strolling, walking and running are bodily exercises, so every way of preparing and disposing the soul… to seek and find the Divine Will… is called a Spiritual Exercise” (Annotation 1, SE).1 And if Coach St. Iggy gave the thumbs up on this, it must be good.

So whether we are an experienced ‘spiritual athlete’…

Or just beginning the spiritual fitness journey…

Here are the first five connections between physical and spiritual exercise, followed by a practical spiritual workout for each point. (Stay tuned for five more next month!)

Don’t try to do them all at once. Start with one or two of the tips that you think will be most helpful for you and adapt them to your physical and spiritual needs.

1.) Start the Day Right

Just as physically working out early in the morning gets the body’s metabolism going throughout the day, spiritual workouts in the morning have a similar effect on our spiritual metabolism. What is a ‘spiritual metabolism’ you ask? It’s my term for our ability to internally “digest” or process our daily experiences. The higher our spiritual metabolism, the faster and more deeply we notice the hand of God acting in our midst. Start your day early, and get the spiritual metabolism working.

Spiritual Workout Tip: Start your morning with the Gospel of the day or your favorite inspirational prayer site (maybe even before you get out of bed). Some of my favorite prayer sites or apps include JesuitPrayer, Pray-As-You-Go, or RezandoVoy (in Spanish). They include short scriptural reflections to listen to on your phone during your morning routine or on your commute to work. Pick one phrase that sticks to you, and allow it to keep working on you all day. Make connections with what goes on in your day. Let the grace of that passage permeate every aspect of your day, and watch how your increased ‘spiritual metabolism’ energizes you with the peace of really “finding God in all things.”

2.) Connect your Heart-Mind-Body

Just as health studies suggest that exercise makes you smarter, so does prayer. If you think ‘Hand-Eye’ coordination is difficult and important for improving cognitive abilities, nothing is harder than Heart-Mind-Body coordination. Prayer is not just an act of contemplation in silence. It is not just a mental exercise. Rather, prayer invites us to unite the movements of our heart with the thoughts of our mind and then move outward in action to promote the faith that does justice.

Spiritual Workout Tip: St. Ignatius tells us to name the grace that we desire. So here’s a tip, ask for the grace necessary to:

        1. have the mind use the love
        2. found in the heart,
        3. to act with your body,
        4. in order to live out justice in your daily actions.

This is one awesome way of learning to “incarnate” the Word of God into your daily actions. Allow your actions to stem from your deepest internal desires. A social justice that stems from radical prayer is a powerful way of allowing the Kingdom of God to emerge here and in the world to come.

3.) Daily Self-Improvement: “Better Loving

Just as many people use physical exercise to be “better looking,” spiritual exercise should make us “better loving.” While God created all God’s children beautiful, prayer has the potential to make your internal beauty radiate outwardly. Not only is meditating correlated with less stress and higher self-esteem at the psychological level, but prayer recognizes the divine connection between the internal and external realities of our daily experiences. Prayer will allow you take that inner joy and peace and allow it to radiate out to everyone you meet daily.

Spiritual Workout Tip: Ask yourself at the end of the day: have I loved? Have I allowed myself to be loved? The Examen prayer app is a great way to learn the connection between our ability to love others and our willingness to be loved unconditionally by God. St. Ignatius always advised his fellow Jesuits never to go a day without praying the Examen. Now I know why.

4.) Practice, Practice, Practice

The more you physically exercise, the better you get at it. The same goes with prayer. The beginning of starting a physical or spiritual workout routine is always the hardest. But once the habit is formed, “muscle memory” kicks in, and what was once a difficult physical movement becomes easier and more natural. The same with “spirit memory” and movements of the soul. We become more acquainted with our internal feelings and desires, fears and hopes, strengths and weaknesses. At first the silence of prayer and sitting alone with ourselves can be scary, but after a while it becomes essential for daily living. Forming the habit of prayer does not mean it becomes a boring routine, but rather the essence for life-giving action.

Spiritual Workout Tip: On my laptop background, I have the following quote: “Your future is created by what you do today, not tomorrow.” Put a reminder for yourself on your phone, your door, or your desk about your commitment to prayer. It’s easy to forget this “holy desire” with the other commitments that pull us in so many directions. Remember that spiritual commitments are not “duties” or “responsibilities,” but daily gifts from God that grow from practice. The Ignatian Spirituality website by Loyola Press has great resources for learning new prayer methods and developing a mature understanding of prayer. Don’t wait another minute and train your “spirit memory” now for your future spiritual exercise.

5.) Feed Yourself Right

Daily commitment to exercise is half the battle, but “eating right” is also an essential element of the whole healthy lifestyle experience. How can you work out effectively without the “fuel” necessary to function? Thus, just like your personal trainer doesn’t want your body trashed with junk food that can slow your progress, neither does God want you to trash your mind and soul with unnecessary material that will take your soul off its path. In prayer, “eating right” is once again half the battle. An Ignatian worldview invites us to discern every element that enters into our physical and spiritual senses. In the end, we must always ask the fundamental question: is this thing, person, lifestyle or idea aiding me to live my Principle and Foundation: “to praise, reverence and serve God”? If so, then full speed ahead!

Spiritual Workout Tip: How do you feed the soul right? Having spiritual conversations with friends, listening to music that keeps your mind and heart at peace, and even watching inspiring movies can all influence how you end up approaching your prayer. Here’s a list of Catholic films and shows on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime that may help feed the soul some “spiritual protein” for muscle growth. Who would have thought that watching Netflix could have exercise benefits on the soul?

*****

I’ll let one of the Church’s most famous spiritual coaches, St. Paul, close this first part of our workout plan for the summer:

“All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it. Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.” (1 Cor 9:23-25)

In the end, start by setting smaller goals and little by little one can win the most important race of all: the race for the Kingdom of God.

Five more spiritual workout tips to come next month, so stay tuned.

Godspeed on your Ignatian “Summer Soul” workout plan!

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A Way To Encounter

This post is edited from its original, published on April 8, 2014 – Fine By Me: An All-Embracing Love

***

The first time a friend came out to me, I was shopping for a Campbell’s Soup Can costume at a Target in St. Louis. As I searched for a means to disguise myself as comfort food he chose to reveal part of his true self to me. It might have been the environment or the context we were in, but I wasn’t alarmed by his revelation. Quite the contrary. It was an invitation to experience and understand my friend in a deeper way. Sometimes, we might need to keep ourselves hidden, but other times, the costumes must come off.

Growing up in Green Bay, I had a pretty homogenous worldview. Until I was about six,  I thought that every black man that I saw played for the Packers. It wasn’t until an embarrassing encounter in a Foot Locker (another story altogether!) that I learned otherwise. Admittedly, I had much to discover about diversity, difference, and privilege. My college years at Saint Louis University (SLU) were filled with nights of deep discussion about race and sexuality. My friends and I were grounded in mutual respect, honest dialogue, and a spirit of reconciliation. It’s a classic coming-of-age tale, really–guy goes to college, gets rocked by the vastness of the human experience, and strives to go further still in how he engages the world.

While I had several LGBTQ+ friends at SLU, it was still a relatively closeted community. When I began working and studying at UW-Madison many of the students I encountered identified openly as a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Condoms were passed out readily by people wearing gigantic condom hats and there was a student organization called “Sex Out Loud.” Needless to say, it was much different than my preceding 17 years of Catholic education. My understanding of my friends’ unique and often challenging circumstances with their families, their network at the University, and their efforts to educate others about LGBTQ+issues grew tremendously. I became an active supporter of LGBTQ+ student groups and programs – an ally, if you will. I quickly learned that being an ally comes with its own risks and challenges.

During Lent my first year in Madison there was a PR program through the LGBT Campus Center. The catch phrase for the campaign was “Gay? Fine by me.” I wore my bright blue t-shirt often and pinned a small yellow button bearing the slogan on my backpack. I believed in what they said. Since it was Lent I was attending daily Masses. One day I visited the chapel around noon and set my backpack down beside me in the pew. When the time came for the sign of peace an older professor type (a daily Mass regular) offered his hand. He pulled me close and said quietly, “You should be ashamed to display that pin in here.”

I abandoned daily Mass for the remainder of Lent because I was unwilling to remove the pin from my bag. I was also unwilling to face the shame I felt because of his comment. I looked at the world around me–Madison, the liberal capital of Wisconsin – and felt guilty for the comfort I experienced in that environment as a Catholic man. I deeply wanted to be supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, but because of that one comment it seemed that my own faith community couldn’t affirm me in that desire. It was a hard time for me to be Catholic.

***

June is Pride month, and Pride is a big deal in Chicago. Twice this month I’ve eaten something that was prepped specifically to resemble the rainbow flag – a bowl of ramen that boasted yellow corn, green onion, red pepper, purple cabbage, and a donut frosted with a kaleidoscope of colors. I didn’t seek this stuff out – the world simply offered me a way to encounter.

I’ve been a Jesuit for eight years, and as a member of an all-male Catholic religious order, I’m lucky to have heard other voices in my community of faith. So many never have the chance, or choose not to seek those voices out. I’m grateful when, as conversations around sexuality, gender, and Catholicism arise, people listen first and try to understand. I admire reasonable dialogue around pronouns and gender-neutral bathrooms, and I appreciate when people take the time to recognize that we serve LGBTQ+ people in Catholic spaces whether we like it or not.

When I look to the history of my church I realize that we have a community of believers whose arms have been opened wider and wider by the movement of the Holy Spirit. These open arms are not new; indeed, the love Christ witnessed is the same love we witness moving in our lives today; it’s a love of radical inclusion.

Every time I walk into Church, the image I’m met with is one of a God whose arms are spread wide, a God crucified for love. This God tells me that no one is turned away, not because of a pin on their backpack, who they hold hands with, or how they reconcile their own lives with a world that can at times bear hatred and discord. In that image lies a model for Christian love and my own hope. In this Church I pray for the willingness to wrap my arms around even those who withdraw in fear from the work being done and the hard work yet to do, all in the name of love.

-//-

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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Faber or Canisius?

La Civiltà Cattolica has released an English-language translation of the conversation between Pope Francis and local Jesuits in his recent visit to Romania. Francis often meets with Jesuits in his global travels, and the conversation are always worth reading.

In this conversation, Pope Francis responds to a question that many of us could ask: “How should we behave in difficult times? How can we serve everyone in turbulent times?”

How can we serve, in other words, even those who disagree with and criticize us?

Pope Francis offered a memorable response, in part because he invokes two famous Jesuits as exemplars of Christian witness: Saint Peter Faber and Saint Peter Canisius.

Today is a time more for Faber than for Canisius, who was the man of the dispute. In times of criticism and tension we must do as Faber did, working with the help of the angels: he begged his angel to speak to the angels of others so that they might do with them what we cannot do. And then you really need proximity, a meek proximity. We must first of all be close to the Lord with prayer, with time spent in front of the tabernacle. And then the closeness to the people of God in daily life with works of charity to heal the wounds.

The intelligent, highly-read Canisius was “the man of dispute” who tangled intellectually with Reformers. Faber was the kind, gentle spiritual man who converted many souls through the Exercises and his godly, meek presence.

Which one are we? Some of us are more naturally drawn to be Canisius, and I don’t think the Pope is asking us or expecting us to change our stripes. Indeed, we still need intellectual formation and debate. But it is not the only thing we need. This is why Francis calls for more Faber in our time.

What can we learn from Faber about how to be more effective witness to Christianity in a world already full of argument?

Faber embodies many of Francis’ favorite ideals. For one, Faber trusted in God’s slow work over time, rather than in his own ability to master “spaces” of culture and politics. For another, Faber sought unity over conflict: he spoke with anyone who “has a sincere doubt,” as Francis said in Romania, but he didn’t try to “respond to the attacks.” He sought unity at a deeper level. Faber also valued reality over ideals, seeking in his ministry to respond directly to the lived experiences of the people whom he served.

“Today is a time more for Faber than for Canisius.”

Something we can all learn from Faber is the need not just to give witness to faith in Christ Jesus, but to be such a witness. Faber was an attractive figure not just because of what he did, but because of who he was. Like Jesus, he drew in people searching for the beauty and goodness of his example. And that beauty and goodness leads to all truth. In the Scripture-laden words of Pope Benedict: Deus caritas est, and He is caritas in veritate.

This is where Faber and Canisius agree: the truth is a person, and that person is love itself. But many who would seek to imitate Canisius in our time do not see that. They need the witness of Faber to remind them.

Such witness to truth only comes from being “close to the Lord”. If we learn nothing else from Saint Peter Faber, let us never mistake anything else, or rather anyone else, for our end.

****

Image courtesy La Civiltà Cattolica.

Read the rest of the dialogue here.

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The Psychological Terror of War in “Neon Genesis Evangelion”

Last week, people around the world commemorated the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy in World War II. The numerous celebrations were a fitting recognition for those men who gave their lives in the pursuit of freedom. We have dealt with those who have served by honoring them as giants, fondly and tearfully remembering those who did not come back.

Next week, Netflix begins streaming Neon Genesis Evangelion, a classic anime series that explores the themes of war and violence, and the psychological toll that it can have on combatants. This series debuts at a fitting time, as we remember D-Day and continue to think about all living veterans marked by the scars of war.

Fans of Neon Genesis Evangelion have been eagerly awaiting its release for years, as the series has had licensing issues since its parent company AD Vision went out of business in 2009. But accessibility to a classic series, while certainly a positive, is not the most important aspect of its release. Rather, its depiction of war and its aftermath is far more relevant and important today.

A quick glance at some series artwork or its opening theme may lead you to believe that the series itself is a typical fantasy/adventure story where a handful of youth control giant robots to help save the world, reminiscent of familiar series like Power Rangers or Voltron.

However, the story has a striking difference in its characters. Shinji Ikari, the series’ teenage protagonist, is extremely reluctant to accept his role as a pilot who is needed to combat the race of monsters that have come to try and destroy the world. Unlike other protagonists, Shinji’s experience does not overly glorify combat. Rather, it shows the effects of battle from his perspective.

His first attempt is disastrous. Shinji attempts to fight off the giant monster (known as an angel) with no training because there is no time. He only agrees to try under pressure from his father, and Shinji panics and becomes overwhelmed very quickly. The robot he is piloting takes control on its own and finishes off the monster. Shinji is not a hero who is in control and confident. He is overwhelmed and panicky, relying on his robot to save the day.

Another one of his early attempts to fight is animated with a disorienting red color palate. As a result, we, the audience, begin to see just how traumatizing combat must be for the young man. When he is asked to return to battle, the stakes continue to escalate.

Shinji does not fight alone as he continues to battle these “angels,” and he becomes more adept and confident on the battlefield. But nonetheless, he still carries with him the trauma from those first solo fights.

Through these experiences, this series allows us to explore the effects of war and the struggles that those who go into battle face on a visceral level. Yes, Shinji is able to win the battles he engages in and can be viewed as a hero for that reason. But he witnesses and experiences unspeakable horrors, only shared by those people who guided him through the battles or fought alongside him. It is a trauma that is born inside of him, which few people can relate to and connect with. How much is this the case for our own soldiers who have gone into armed combat?

By making us experience the situation through the eyes of Shinji, Neon Genesis Evangelion allows its audience to glimpse the psychological horror of war and to be able to have some understanding of its effects. It’s worth remembering that this series aired in the mid 1990s, before we had any lasting cultural understanding of the psychological effects of war on a human being.1 Today PTSD is a familiar acronym, and the stigma around mental health is fading. That wasn’t the case two decades ago when the series debuted.

If for this reason alone, revisiting Neon Genesis Evangelion today becomes helpful and important. In just the first handful of episodes, Shinji provides us with the material to talk about the horrific effects of war and of having to return to battle. Perhaps by reflecting on this series, we will be able to find ways to remember and honor those traumatized by combat, those who came home and were never quite the same.

from The Jesuit Post http://bit.ly/31zJzzg
via IFTTT

The Psychological Terror of War in “Neon Genesis Evangelion”

Last week, people around the world commemorated the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy in World War II. The numerous celebrations were a fitting recognition for those men who gave their lives in the pursuit of freedom. We have dealt with those who have served by honoring them as giants, fondly and tearfully remembering those who did not come back.

Next week, Netflix begins streaming Neon Genesis Evangelion, a classic anime series that explores the themes of war and violence, and the psychological toll that it can have on combatants. This series debuts at a fitting time, as we remember D-Day and continue to think about all living veterans marked by the scars of war.

Fans of Neon Genesis Evangelion have been eagerly awaiting its release for years, as the series has had licensing issues since its parent company AD Vision went out of business in 2009. But accessibility to a classic series, while certainly a positive, is not the most important aspect of its release. Rather, its depiction of war and its aftermath is far more relevant and important today.

A quick glance at some series artwork or its opening theme may lead you to believe that the series itself is a typical fantasy/adventure story where a handful of youth control giant robots to help save the world, reminiscent of familiar series like Power Rangers or Voltron.

However, the story has a striking difference in its characters. Shinji Ikari, the series’ teenage protagonist, is extremely reluctant to accept his role as a pilot who is needed to combat the race of monsters that have come to try and destroy the world. Unlike other protagonists, Shinji’s experience does not overly glorify combat. Rather, it shows the effects of battle from his perspective.

His first attempt is disastrous. Shinji attempts to fight off the giant monster (known as an angel) with no training because there is no time. He only agrees to try under pressure from his father, and Shinji panics and becomes overwhelmed very quickly. The robot he is piloting takes control on its own and finishes off the monster. Shinji is not a hero who is in control and confident. He is overwhelmed and panicky, relying on his robot to save the day.

Another one of his early attempts to fight is animated with a disorienting red color palate. As a result, we, the audience, begin to see just how traumatizing combat must be for the young man. When he is asked to return to battle, the stakes continue to escalate.

Shinji does not fight alone as he continues to battle these “angels,” and he becomes more adept and confident on the battlefield. But nonetheless, he still carries with him the trauma from those first solo fights.

Through these experiences, this series allows us to explore the effects of war and the struggles that those who go into battle face on a visceral level. Yes, Shinji is able to win the battles he engages in and can be viewed as a hero for that reason. But he witnesses and experiences unspeakable horrors, only shared by those people who guided him through the battles or fought alongside him. It is a trauma that is born inside of him, which few people can relate to and connect with. How much is this the case for our own soldiers who have gone into armed combat?

By making us experience the situation through the eyes of Shinji, Neon Genesis Evangelion allows its audience to glimpse the psychological horror of war and to be able to have some understanding of its effects. It’s worth remembering that this series aired in the mid 1990s, before we had any lasting cultural understanding of the psychological effects of war on a human being.1 Today PTSD is a familiar acronym, and the stigma around mental health is fading. That wasn’t the case two decades ago when the series debuted.

If for this reason alone, revisiting Neon Genesis Evangelion today becomes helpful and important. In just the first handful of episodes, Shinji provides us with the material to talk about the horrific effects of war and of having to return to battle. Perhaps by reflecting on this series, we will be able to find ways to remember and honor those traumatized by combat, those who came home and were never quite the same.

from The Jesuit Post http://bit.ly/31zJzzg
via IFTTT

The Storybook Ending of the Stanley Cup Finals

Last night was Game 7 of hockey’s Stanley Cup Finals between the St. Louis Blues and the Boston Bruins. The Blues won to clinch their first ever Stanley Cup title to write the ending to an incredible storybook season. They fired their head coach early in the season. In January, they were in last place in the NHL. They started playing a third-string goalie. This was not supposed to be their season.

Fast forward to last night. The series had been back and forth and the Bruins forced Game 7 by winning convincingly in St. Louis. The deciding game was in Boston, a city that has hoisted championship trophies for baseball and football within the last seven months.

Here is a running diary of the memorable game.

The first period of Game 7 is why hockey can be one of the most exhilarating and maddening sports in all of fandom. Boston absolutely dominated in every statistical category from offensive zone time, to shots, to scorings chances, including several high danger scoring chances. Yet they came away with nothing to show for it offensively. Zero goals from the Bruins despite their flurry of attempts.

Boston fans were surely sick to their stomachs or else had smoke flowing out their ears like chimneys on a cold winter’s night. Blues fans, in contrast, were holding their breath and wincing with every close chance in front of their rookie goalie, Jordan Binnington, who was an absolute wall in front of the net. The lazy-boys of Blues fans were being held onto like a rough rider in the Calgary Stampede.

As hockey will have it from time to time, the puck bounced favorably for the outplayed Blues. They got a timely goal off a deflection on a shot from the blue line with three minutes left and then bagged a broken play odd-man rush on a silky smooth backhand finish by El Capitan, Alex Pietrangelo, with just eight seconds left in the period to close out with a shocking 2-0 lead. Unreal. Boston fans were floored. Blues fans were jumping around in pandemonium and going hysterical. Hockey does not get much crazier than what we saw in the first period.

The second period was much more to expectations. The Blues held strong to their 2-goal lead, going in hard on the forecheck, making simple plays, and making Boston come 200 feet to try and score. They took advantage of playing with a two-goal lead. When a team has just a one-goal lead, they can tense up and make more mental mistakes, which leads to turnovers, goals and tied games.

The Bruins pushed hard at the end of the second but to no avail. The Blues stayed in their lanes, sacrificed their bodies to block shots, and the arena stayed in a hushed quiet for most of the period. It’s as if the Bruins fans were watching the beginnings of an ancient ritual of animal sacrifice. Shocking silence fell upon the Boston faithful.

In the third period, Boston was forced to take more chances offensively, which led to odd-man breaks for the Blues, who did a good job of making them count. A two-goal deficit going into the third period is very difficult to overcome, and Boston was playing aggressively trying to scratch back into the game. After all, anything can happen in the playoffs. But this wasn’t just any other game. This was a Game 7 with an opponent in the Blues who knew they only had to execute sound team defense for 20 minutes to hoist the Cup. Yes, a two-goal deficit in the third period is a very steep hill to climb. Like Everest. The Bruins could not summit last night for lack of oxygen.

Nobody says that hockey is a fair game. It often comes down to who finishes the chances they generate, no matter how few, and who gets the better goaltending in a given game. The rest can be pretty even between good teams as far as structure and systems go. And believe me, these were two very good teams. The remarkable runs they both made to reach the Stanley Cup Finals were testimony to that.

Ultimately, the hockey we just witnessed in the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals was heavy hockey. Very heavy hockey. It’s not the prettiest, but any true hockey fan can appreciate a brand of hockey where the games become a war of attrition and a test of stamina and grit.

Remarkably, this St. Louis Blues team rose to the challenge, even after they changed their head coach back in November when they were last in the NHL standings. They even brought a dog to practice to help lighten the spirits of a terribly frustrated team performing well below expectations. The Blues actually finished the playoffs with a losing record at home at just 6-7, but went 10-3 on the road, including this unforgettable Game 7 in Boston.

The Blues demonstrated unparalleled levels of stamina and grit on their way to winning the first Stanley Cup for a 50-year-old franchise. Half a century is a long time for a franchise to reach the pinnacle of their sport. Yet, perhaps no other team earned their first Cup like this year’s St. Louis Blues. Truly, a team for the ages, complete with a storybook ending.

Play Gloria.

 

[Author’s note: I picked the Blues to win the Cup before the start of the playoffs because of their climb from the cellar towards the top shelf at regular season’s end. And I’m a Jackets fan! So I’m not just blowing smoke!!! Well done Blues!]

 

//

Cover image courtesy of FlickrCC user Jackman Chiu.

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God: Present in Every Encounter

This post is edited from its original, published on August 1, 2018 – A Beautiful Bond: Argentinian Nun Ministers to Transgender Women

***

The term “LGBT” was used for the first time in a Vatican document. The working document for the 2018 Synod on the Youth noted, “Some LGBT youth…wish to benefit from greater closeness and experience greater care by the Church.”

Sister Monica Astorga, an Argentinian Discalced Carmelite Nun, has been working with transgender women since 2005. In a June 2018 interview, she recounted a similar desire for among the LGBT community for “closeness” with God and the Church

“For me, God is very present in every encounter I have with trans people,” she said. “When they arrive at the monastery, they come to ask for a hug, for someone to listen to their pain and to show them God.” Sister Monica, whose ministry has received support from Pope Francis, is not the only Catholic sister working with the trans community. Indeed, there are multiple stories of sisters walking with and advocating for this marginalized community.   

Sister Monica recounts one story demonstrating the desire for community and hope among the women she works with:

“One day in January, on a very hot day, a 27-year-old trans girl came to me crying. She said, ‘Sister, please tell me about God.’ After a long talk, she asked me to help her out of prostitution. She told me how much of a torment it was to be on the streets. Now, years later, she has been working in a clinic for over a year and is studying at the university.”

Sister Monica’s call to work with the transgender community came when a trans woman was referred to the Carmelite Monastery after donating to her local parish. In speaking with the woman, Sister Monica asked about her dreams for the future. The woman’s dream was simply to die in a clean bed. From that conversation, Sister Monica knew God was calling her to walk with these women.

She began regularly inviting trans women to the monastery. What followed was a move to uncover their dreams hidden beneath pain and abuse. Sister Monica’s desire became clear: to help the women pursue their revealed aspirations. In the beginning, she said, “Many did not have any dreams. They lived day-to-day wondering who would be the next to die.” Through monthly prayer and support meetings, the women began to hope for a life without prostitution, going back to school, and having a safe home to live in.

Due to discriminatory hiring practices, work is hard to come by for trans people. Sister Monica set out to create employment opportunities whereby the women would have the means to earn money outside of prostitution. Sister Monica worked with the local bishop to find an old house that could be converted into a home for these women. She turned part of the house into a sew-shop and beauty salon where the women work and earn money.

She’s currently adding a full-time residence for drug and alcohol addiction recovery. Recently, Sister Monica worked with her government to purchase an old apartment building which is being renovated into 12 apartments for trans women with delicate health.

Sister Monica laments the low life expectancy for transgender individuals, which in Argentina is 40 years. In America, there are roughly 1.4 million people who identify as transgender. Within the trans community, persons are twice as likely to experience homelessness as the national average, nearly 50% have attempted suicide. Trans individuals are also twice as likely to be victims of hate crimes than other minority groups.

“The gospel is very clear. Who do we see Jesus with?” Sister Monica said when asked about the controversial nature of LGBT ministry within the Church. Due to discrimination, violence, and marginalization of transgender individuals, the ministry is not the least bit controversial in her mind. It is simply a mandate of the gospel.

The ministry, however, was difficult at first. “They could not believe that a religious woman was caring about them. They were used to rejection from all or most of the members of the Church,” she said. “When they began to understand that I was only interested in their good, we formed a very beautiful bond.”

It is a bond rooted in prayer. “This ministry is very close to my life of prayer,” Sister Monica said. “I present each face and name to God. I give Him their anguish and I speak a lot to Him about each trans person I meet.”

While Pope Francis has supported Sister Monica’s ministry, there is no question that the LGBT ministry is colored in controversy due to the Church’s rejection of Gender Theory, which holds that biological sex is separate from one’s gender. According to Gender Theory, regardless of biological sex, one could identify with a variety of genders. Pope Francis has been especially vocal in his worries about this theory, even calling it “ideological colonization.” At the same time, he has himself reached out to transgender individuals, meeting with them at the Vatican.

The controversy comes from worry or skepticism that ministry or even association with the LGBT community necessitates a dilution or rejection of the Church’s teaching. For Pope Francis, that is certainly not the case. For the Carmelite, worrying is unnecessary:

“If we view this issue from an ideological perspective, that of liberal or conservative, we will continue to condemn people. Rather, I invite people to listen to the stories of transgender people and when you listen, listen first with your heart. Begin to meet transgender people and listen to their dreams. In doing so, leave the ideology and the judgment and accompany these people in your heart.”

Sister Monica’s outlook may not be satisfying for those who worry that accompanying and befriending trans people misses another important step. For Sister Monica, however, it is our own conversion that seems more important. Learning to accompany anyone, without judgment, and with a pure heart is perhaps an even more daunting task than clarifying the philosophical and theological teachings on human nature and flourishing when it comes to sex and gender.

Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive, and in fact, both are necessary. In Sister Monica’s mind, one comes before the other. This call to conversion, to a bigger and purer heart, is not always satisfying and is uncomfortable. If our goal, however, is a “very beautiful bond,” conversion seems necessary. As Fr. James Martin points out, “It costs when you live a life of respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

It is safe to say that our Church would be different and would be perceived differently if, like Sister Monica, more Catholics spent time presenting the faces, names, and anguish of transgender people to God. It would be easier for LGBT Catholics to trust that the Church does have their flourishing in mind if a desire to listen with our hearts was more clear.

Acknowledging the desire that LGBT youth have for closeness with the Church is a good step forward. A second step, following the advice of Sister Monica, could be to reflect on the Church’s own capacity and desire to be close with the LGBT community and ask God to increase it.

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Desert Grace

Gallup, New Mexico sprawls across dry desert land, surrounded by large reddish-orange mesas where small, hardy cedar trees and cacti litter the rocky ground. The cacti bloom in the Spring with tiny bright red flowers that sparkle over the brown dust and rocks. It is quite beautiful.

I walked through town and passed over a dry river bed to find the Missionaries of Charity at the shelter they run. They serve men with alcohol addictions who lack a roof over their heads or a meal on cold desert nights. These sisters were dressed in their distinctive white and blue habits and welcomed me with open arms. Nearly all of them are from different countries.

The sisters labor all day: picking up extra food, organizing donations, hand washing clothes, cooking a large meal, and welcoming men into the shelter. They never seemed to miss a beat or be the least bit tired. Their only breaks in the day are for communal prayer and mass. After one afternoon of work I was exhausted.

***

On my first day they brought me to mass in their modest, old, neatly maintained house. I walk in the door and remove my shoes in a small parlor. The house is still and quiet. I see what could’ve been a living room redone as a chapel. There are wooden floors, walls humbly adorned with a crucifix, an altar, a chair for a priest, prayer and song books, and a few religious images.

Throughout mass I feel the quiet intensity of the sisters praying, it is palpable. Their slightly bowed heads, the shuffle of their habits as they kneel, the scent of old wood, and the taste of the Eucharistic bread and wine capture my attention.

We sit silently after mass. Still air presses my ears. My gaze pans the space. I look up at the crucifix, the body of Christ is pale white. There is blood on his wounds. Most markedly, fixed above the cross are the words, “I thirst.”

I’m mystified. My mind cannot categorize or connect what I’m witnessing to anything else I’ve participated in prior to this moment. I don’t know how to enter into the experience. What is the “thirst?” What silent words are rising from the sisters’ hearts toward the stark body of Jesus? These women are totally enraptured in prayer and I’m keenly aware that I am unsettled in comparison.

***

After only a few days of helping and praying with the sisters, I felt exhausted and stripped bare. I’d been in unpresuming places before, which had reshaped my vision of the external world. But, I had never encountered my own poverty of interior resources and motivation like I did in Gallup. With only the sisters, tedious acts of service, and the desert to console me, I met the limits of my capability and generosity.

This all left me unexpectedly rattled. I thought my life of faith and service was supposed to be fulfilling, not dry. I thought there would be an intensification of inspiration guiding me into my relationship with God, not the seeming loss of it. In Gallup, I knew I was doing good work, but I didn’t feel good. I felt unprepared, fragile, and dissatisfied.

As the years passed, I began to have similar experiences of dryness and lack of motivation in other areas of my life. Weekly ministry became monotonous. The initial excitement of academic study became boring. Soon, feelings of emptiness started to seep into the confidence of my vocation: Why would God let these feelings happen when I’m doing everything to follow him? Why wasn’t I feeling happier and more fulfilled? I felt angry and betrayed, and I let God know it.

***

The words “I thirst,” hanging over the sisters and the crucifix in their chapel, returned to my prayers. In my emptiness and dryness I also thirsted. I could instinctively see how I had satisfied this drought in the past with material comforts, affective support from friends, and novel/exciting activities. I was able to see the invitation to give my life to God and God’s work more fully. Which meant I would, in some way, have to let go of comforts I held onto for security and satisfaction, like time to myself or living near family and friends. I had to give God my arid interior. While I was afraid of facing my inner desert of dry longing, I knew it was the desert’s open space where greater intimacy with God and generosity in service could be born.

And, it is taking time. Scared by my lack of control, I still sometimes runaway from this desert grace. But, when I turn and face the torrid wind, God beckons my parched soul, becoming the driving force toward something beyond what earthly comforts can offer. I can begin to make some small sense of the sisters in Gallup, only allowing their thirst to be satiated by total love and justice of God. So they remain, they love, and they serve. And, I pray I can do the same.

-//-

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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Desert Grace

Gallup, New Mexico sprawls across dry desert land, surrounded by large reddish-orange mesas where small, hardy cedar trees and cacti litter the rocky ground. The cacti bloom in the Spring with tiny bright red flowers that sparkle over the brown dust and rocks. It is quite beautiful.

I walked through town and passed over a dry river bed to find the Missionaries of Charity at the shelter they run. They serve men with alcohol addictions who lack a roof over their heads or a meal on cold desert nights. These sisters were dressed in their distinctive white and blue habits and welcomed me with open arms. Nearly all of them are from different countries.

The sisters labor all day: picking up extra food, organizing donations, hand washing clothes, cooking a large meal, and welcoming men into the shelter. They never seemed to miss a beat or be the least bit tired. Their only breaks in the day are for communal prayer and mass. After one afternoon of work I was exhausted.

***

On my first day they brought me to mass in their modest, old, neatly maintained house. I walk in the door and remove my shoes in a small parlor. The house is still and quiet. I see what could’ve been a living room redone as a chapel. There are wooden floors, walls humbly adorned with a crucifix, an altar, a chair for a priest, prayer and song books, and a few religious images.

Throughout mass I feel the quiet intensity of the sisters praying, it is palpable. Their slightly bowed heads, the shuffle of their habits as they kneel, the scent of old wood, and the taste of the Eucharistic bread and wine capture my attention.

We sit silently after mass. Still air presses my ears. My gaze pans the space. I look up at the crucifix, the body of Christ is pale white. There is blood on his wounds. Most markedly, fixed above the cross are the words, “I thirst.”

I’m mystified. My mind cannot categorize or connect what I’m witnessing to anything else I’ve participated in prior to this moment. I don’t know how to enter into the experience. What is the “thirst?” What silent words are rising from the sisters’ hearts toward the stark body of Jesus? These women are totally enraptured in prayer and I’m keenly aware that I am unsettled in comparison.

***

After only a few days of helping and praying with the sisters, I felt exhausted and stripped bare. I’d been in unpresuming places before, which had reshaped my vision of the external world. But, I had never encountered my own poverty of interior resources and motivation like I did in Gallup. With only the sisters, tedious acts of service, and the desert to console me, I met the limits of my capability and generosity.

This all left me unexpectedly rattled. I thought my life of faith and service was supposed to be fulfilling, not dry. I thought there would be an intensification of inspiration guiding me into my relationship with God, not the seeming loss of it. In Gallup, I knew I was doing good work, but I didn’t feel good. I felt unprepared, fragile, and dissatisfied.

As the years passed, I began to have similar experiences of dryness and lack of motivation in other areas of my life. Weekly ministry became monotonous. The initial excitement of academic study became boring. Soon, feelings of emptiness started to seep into the confidence of my vocation: Why would God let these feelings happen when I’m doing everything to follow him? Why wasn’t I feeling happier and more fulfilled? I felt angry and betrayed, and I let God know it.

***

The words “I thirst,” hanging over the sisters and the crucifix in their chapel, returned to my prayers. In my emptiness and dryness I also thirsted. I could instinctively see how I had satisfied this drought in the past with material comforts, affective support from friends, and novel/exciting activities. I was able to see the invitation to give my life to God and God’s work more fully. Which meant I would, in some way, have to let go of comforts I held onto for security and satisfaction, like time to myself or living near family and friends. I had to give God my arid interior. While I was afraid of facing my inner desert of dry longing, I knew it was the desert’s open space where greater intimacy with God and generosity in service could be born.

And, it is taking time. Scared by my lack of control, I still sometimes runaway from this desert grace. But, when I turn and face the torrid wind, God beckons my parched soul, becoming the driving force toward something beyond what earthly comforts can offer. I can begin to make some small sense of the sisters in Gallup, only allowing their thirst to be satiated by total love and justice of God. So they remain, they love, and they serve. And, I pray I can do the same.

-//-

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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Taylor Swift’s “ME!” and What Makes Us Unique

Last month, Taylor Swift dropped the first single of her forthcoming seventh studio album, another catchy pop gem to add to her extensive chart-topping successes. The new song, titled “ME!”, debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 and has comfortably lodged itself in the top ten after peaking at number two.

Is it catchy and popular? Of course. But the heavy individualism self-evident in the song title obscures the deeper truth behind the lyrics: the unique dignity of our personhood.

 

The song, like many T-Swift tracks, is all about relationships. It’s a duet that pairs Swift with Panic! at the Disco frontman Brendon Urie, who begin by singing back and forth to each other like a courting couple.

The song leads off with its main point: “I promise that you’ll never find another lover like me.” Two lovers are making the case for the unique greatness of their love.

Before making their cases, Swift and Urie acknowledge their imperfections. Swift admits, “I know that I went psycho on the phone / I never leave well enough alone / And trouble’s gonna follow where I go.” Urie confesses back to her, “I know I tend to make it about me / I know you never get just what you see / But I will never bore you, baby.”

Despite these imperfections, they make their pleas to one another that there is something uniquely wonderful and lovable about each of them. “I’m the only one of me / Baby that’s the fun of me.”

It’s tough not to hear these lyrics for a song titled “ME!” (all caps, with an exclamation point for good measure!) and not detect a heavy layer of narcissism born out of our cultural emphasis on individualism.

After all, we curate our social media profiles to highlight just how great we are, and we want others to see that. We preach tolerance as a principal societal value at least in part because we want to be entitled to think whatever we think, believe whatever we believe, and act however we act without others confronting us on it. “You do you. Let me do me.”

Where is the sense of community? Accountability? Teamwork? Swift even takes an old sports rallying cry for togetherness and flips it, “There ain’t no I in ‘team’ / But you know there is a ‘me’ / And you can’t spell ‘awesome’ without ‘me.’”

Swift’s new single might as well be the anthem of American society: it’s all about ME!

When you cast this message onto courtship, it also risks pitting people against one another in a competition for love and affection. Swift worries of her worthiness among other women, “There’s a lot of cool chicks out there.” Urie asserts himself against other men, “There’s a lot of lame guys out there.”

But being in a relationship doesn’t have to be about being better than others. A healthy relationship shouldn’t be about proving how great you are, but rather bringing out the best in one another. It’s about the two people in the relationship, imperfect in so many ways, committed to loving one another. Not better than others, but best for one another.

Buried behind the heavy individualistic overtones of Swift’s song is actually a fundamental truth about each of us, which is what Swift is ultimately reaching for. There is, of course, something unique about each one of us. There is something about each human person that is fundamentally individual. Part of each of us being one-of-a-kind individuals, though, is that there’s more to our uniqueness than we can ever understand. We can never fully know everything there is to know about ourselves, nor can we know everything there is to know about each other.

“I promise that you’ll never find another lover like me.” That’s true: no one person is like another. This reality doesn’t make some people better than others, or better lovers. Yet at its best, it speaks to our own unique personhood.

There is a unique “me” to every one of us. That “me” is shaped and influenced by everyone in our lives, most especially those with whom we are in relationship. It doesn’t make us better than others, it just makes us who we are. In healthy relationships, we don’t assert our individual uniqueness, we share ourselves in vulnerability, open to the ways we grow and change together with others.

In healthy relationships, it’s not about ME! It’s about US!

 

//

Cover image courtesy of FlickrCC user Eva Rinaldi.

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The Spirit’s Whispers: A Poem

There is a secret lie that I’ve held since childhood—that prayer is like recipe book or magical spell, wherein the perfect words get the perfect wish fulfilled. But, I often find it’s not the words themselves that matter. Rather, what leads me closer to Christ’s peace is an attitude of openness, the genuine leaning upon God, and a willingness simply to sit in the vulnerable quiet.

Romans Chapter 8 offers us the line: “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” It’s always struck me as an odd line, because as someone who loves writing it seems like I should have those perfect words to make things turn out my way.

Yet, some of my most honest prayers have not been overly wordy, overly long, or even overly complex. Instead, they are nearer to the “inexpressible groanings” of my heart, because those are the most honest and direct lines to God’s heart.

Still, here is a poem for those who, like me, struggle with the imperfections and incompleteness of my language and words in prayer.

***

“The Spirit’s Whispers”
by Colten Biro, S.J.

If only my words were
poised, precise, perfect ballerinas.
If only they could pirouette on a point,
Holding a pose, arresting rapt attention,
Meaning twirling out past paradox of The Ineffable,
convincing the very orbit of the Son to stop and listen,
to nothing more significant—than me.

If only my words were quick, sharp, exact,

halting in the air for emphasis and recognition.
All of which calm, careful, and controlled.
All of which holding the attention of the Heavens,
interrupting an unceasing song of seraphim and cherubim.

If only my words were anything,

but garbled, goofy, grating,
and less akin to rodeo clowns than en pointe figurines.
But they are bumbling and boisterous,
dancing dunces,
threading a thin, thimble-like thought
that the gait of my racing heart
could avoid running into either
lines of bull—or truth too true.
Which means my words, in effect,
avoid bearing my very heart, directly to You.

If only the words, with a gentle extension

and a faint flourish, could entwine:
        my desires—Your Will.
        my loneliness—Your Presence.
        my pain—the Resurrection.
        my disquiet—Your Peace.
Completing a grand jete,
coupling cacophonous
concepts midair—and mid-heart.

And yet,

my words
don’t dance
or sing
at all.

So, I don’t speak.

My words don’t waltz, so much as whimper.
And my seat here in the pew feels too quiet
in the muffled silence of the sanctuary.

Maybe, Lord, You have the words

I can perfectly perform,
to cry anything but Abba.
Which for now,
is the only word I pray,
while paralyzed in the repeating echoes
of my pointless pirouetting.

-//-

Image by Vladislav83 from Pixabay

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How Has Laudato si’ Changed Your Life?

As we approach the fourth anniversary of Laudato si’ on May 24, I ask myself: “What have I done to care for creation?”

Pope Francis’ encyclical continued the tradition of counter-cultural exhortations of the Christian faith that call us to live a life that God desires for us, and not a life dictated by the society around us. However, as far as I can tell, I have not made any significant change to my lifestyle in the past four years. Buying organic food was financially unsustainable in the long run. Taking public transportation was too inconvenient and cumbersome. Turning off the air conditioning was impossible during the hot summers. Further, the big ticket items such as the house we live in or the car we drive are often family or communal decisions beyond our control.  

However, that does not give us a pass for doing nothing, because we can still decide what we eat. In this essay I will focus on the meat that we eat, the production of which is a major contributor to our carbon emissions and land use footprint. I will explore how meat production accounts for a large fraction of our greenhouse gas emissions, why a vegetarian diet is a good option for those looking to incorporate care of our common home into their lifestyle and why our personal choice of reducing meat consumption matters.

By some estimates, the contribution of greenhouse gas emissions by agriculture is as high as 33%, of which 47% is attributed to the production of meat. There is no doubt that plant-based food has a much smaller carbon output than meat because of the inherent inefficiencies in a system involving animals converting plant products to meat. Of course, livestock sometimes use land unsuitable for other purposes.

Most of the meat consumed today, however, comes from factory farms where crops are grown and fed to animals in feedlots; crops grown on land that could be used to grow food for direct human consumption. A report from Cornell University suggested that the U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat. By some estimates 67% of the crops grown in the US are fed to animals. Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest is caused in part by the need for land to grow crops for animal feed. Land is a finite resource and the land used to grow animal feed comes from land that was previously covered by grasslands and forests.

Full disclosure: I am not a vegetarian. Presently, I am a weekday vegetarian. I eat meat on Sundays. Major changes in food habits are difficult, and the all-or-nothing approach often leads to reversion to old habits despite our best intentions and valiant efforts. Thus, I urge a reduction and not elimination of meat from the diet. One could start with once-a-week-vegetarian or meat-free-lunches or weekday-vegetarian. The point is to start with something manageable that balances your eco-friendly intentions of a vegetarian diet with your cravings for a juicy steak.

Often there is push back against vegetarian food from a cultural standpoint. Grilling burgers on Labor Day weekend is as American as apple pie. First, my suggestion is only to reduce, not eliminate, meat from your diet. Second, Americans themselves ate less meat a few decades back. Cultures evolve and change. There is no reason why eating meat three times a day has to be an American thing and remain so moving forward.

Further, as Christians, we live in the culture of the land but we are also called to be prophets of change when the need arises. The Gospel is often counter-cultural in its exhortations to love one’s friends and enemies, and to care for the poor. We need to break with the norms of society when we are called to live to a different standard. In this case, we have to be counter-cultural and change our eating habits to care for God’s creation and our common home. We need to break away from the culture of meat heavy diets as we follow the teachings of Laudato si’ to become better stewards of the earth’s natural resources.

You might also be wondering: what difference can one person make when millions will do nothing? In the tension between personal responsibility and systemic change, we can start by asking what is God calling us to do. God’s commandments and teachings are not contingent on whether everyone else is following them. They are true because they come from God. In this instance, God is calling each one of us to care for creation. Each of us can be a witness to living a life that is in harmony with God’s creation. While our faith is not of an individual solitary kind, we can begin with ourselves before moving the conversation to our churches and communities.

Furthermore, every person does make a difference. For instance, friends influence each other with their dietary habits. This can further translate and grow into a grassroots movement of new cultural trends. Shopping for vegetarian food will send a message to food companies to increase vegetarian options. Restaurants will have more vegetarian dishes on the menu when there is a demand for them. Candidates standing for elections will become aware of this new priority of their constituents. Citizens could demand a diversion of agricultural subsidies from meat producers to plant food producers. The power of every person’s ability to create change should not be underestimated.

We do not know with absolute certainty what the future holds. Perhaps in the future we will have lab grown meat that is as eco-friendly as lentils. Perhaps the Impossible Burger will be a revolutionary success and conquer the traditional meat market on the basis cost and taste, without needing to appeal to its eco friendly credentials. However, given what we know today, along with the Pope’s exhortation to care for the environment, continuing with our meat heavy diets is unsustainable and unconscionable.

There are many other ways to reduce our carbon footprint. Taking public transit, reducing heating and cooling needs, taking shorter showers, reducing consumption, etc. I can take my pick from this long list. They may not have the same impact as reducing meat from the diet, but it would be a start.

As Christians we are called to be counter-cultural and to hold ourselves to a higher standard as we care for God’s creation. That standard is Laudato si’. And so we ask, in the four years since Laudato si’, what have we done to care for creation? The best time to have done something is always yesterday. The second best time is today.

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A New Westeros and a New Jerusalem

**This post contains spoilers for the series finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones.**

This past Sunday, we listened to words from the Book of Revelation:

“Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. … I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God”

This hope of a new world, a new Jerusalem, is part of the promise of Christianity. In the new world, as John of Patmos says, God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” The new world, in short, will be good. In every possible way, it will be full of goodness.

This sentiment was echoed, to my surprise, that same evening in the finale of Game of Thrones. In this last episode, Daenerys Targaryen stands on the precipice of reclaiming her ‘birthright’, the Iron Throne. However, to get to this point, she has decided to effectively firebomb the entire capital city (with the help of her dragon), despite the surrender of the people.

Jon Snow, her lover and sorta-military-commander, confronts Daenerys about her use of violence. He asks her to look to forgive those who wronged her: “You can forgive all of them, make them see they made a mistake.” Daenerys is unwilling, as she sees mercy as a weakness. Jon, however, is adamant: “The world we need is a world of mercy. It has to be.”

As her former adviser Tyrion points out to Jon, Daenerys has always been showered with praise for her use of force against the evils of the world. “Everywhere she goes, evil men die, and we cheer her for it. And she grows more powerful and more sure that she is good and right. She believes her destiny is to build a better world for everyone.”

Daenerys insists that her destruction of the capital was for the liberation of the people. For a new world, without the pain of this one. She maintains this vision even when her lover confronts her. She believes those who disagree with her are mistaken because they are caught up in their old view: “The world we need won’t be built by men loyal to the world we have.” Daenerys, unlike them, knows what is good.

But how many of us think that we know the good? While the fantasy setting is far from our daily lives, how many times have I excused and rationalized my own actions, because I liked the story I told myself? How many times have I used the end that I want to justify the means to get there?

While Tyrion converses with Jon, he reflects on Daenerys’s “better world.” He asks Jon, “If you believed that, if you truly believed it, wouldn’t you kill whomever stood between you and paradise?” The New Jerusalem sounds pretty wonderful. Now, most of us will not look to literally kill those who disagree with us. But how often do we shut out opinions that we think compete with our view of the new world? How often do we do violence against voices different that the ones we are used to hearing?

Jon, too, chooses to ignore dissent rather than compromise his view of the good. He chooses Daenerys’s death for the sake of his own vision of the better world. He kills her (in an overdone trope) after he decides that she will not change her mind. The story presents this as the necessary evil, for the sake of Westeros. But will there be a New Westeros? The outlook does not look great. Old grievances have not been set aside. Bitter wounds have not been reconciled. The peace at the end of the series looks tentative, at best. Again, the narrow and personal vision of the good prevents any lasting transformations.

Many of us would like the Second Coming to happen now. I want that beautiful New Jerusalem, and often think it is up to me personally to ensure that it happens. I can think it my duty to change the minds of (or, if that fails, to get rid of) those too loyal to the old way of life. Like both Daenerys and Jon, I can justify my actions for the sake of something I hope for. We fight against those we disagree with, mistaking something different for something evil. But when we return evil for evil, there is no better world being built. Daenerys killed the slavers; Jon killed the murderous tyrant. But what was left does not look much better than what came before: there are new slaveries, new tyrannies, new violence.

God did not ask our permission for the Resurrection, and will not bring the Second Coming according to our blueprints. Which is good, because such a world is beyond our vision. We work, we forgive, we love, but we cannot be the ones to bring about the new order of everlasting life. As Daenerys says, “it’s not easy to see something that’s never been seen before.” But were she (and Jon) insisted on her view, we must accept the inadequacy of our sight. God is the one with the vision of the New Jerusalem. Our task then is not to try to force the old order away but to look upon the world as Christ did. As Bishop Ken Untener prayed, “We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.”

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My Defensive Mask

I put on my best I’m-really-listening-face, sitting in an old, kind of gross, white-ish wingback chair. My friend sits opposite on another identical chair. As I nurse a glass of nice Scotch, I notice the ends of the armrests are stained mysteriously gray from hours of Jesuit high-school-teacher-sullied hands resting there while watching TV, or talking, like my friend and I are doing now. God only knows what has worn its way into that upholstery.

I’m at the edge of my seat, legs crossed, leaning forward with my elbow on the armrest and my hand supporting my head looking intently at my friend. We are having a civil discussion. I find myself challenging him a bit about how he deals with emotions.

“You’re a bit off with your criticism,” he responds, “sometimes people let defensive emotions get the best of them when evaluating things or hearing critical feedback.” With some sort of tricky verbal Jiu Jitsu, I get the hint: I’m the one being challenged.

“So, are you saying I let emotions influence me too much?” I ask, setting down my Scotch.

“Well, do you sometimes let emotions influence you too much?” More verbal Jiu Jitsu. Okay, I can play this game.

“I get the point you’re making, but why do you feel like you have to tell me I let my emotions influence me too much?” My body starts to tense-up. I begin my sophisticated rebuttal, making points with all the well reasoned arguments I can muster.

I feel like I’m on a role. And, when I’ve almost reached the top of my soap box, I look at him and see a little smile and snicker creep across his face. I abruptly stop. Who does he think he is, laughing at me? Now I’m upset. Feeling disrespected.

Indignant, I pause. Me, being so dramatic, I look down, then I look back up. “Why are you laughing right now?”

“I’m just smiling, what’s wrong with smiling?”

“No, you’re laughing. It seems like you’re laughing … are you?” I push. I’ve forgotten about my nice Scotch. I’ve been wronged. Justice must be served.

“Yeah maybe a little, a little bit laughing.” The corners of his mouth curving up and my insides are starting to broil.

“It makes me feel like you’re not taking me seriously and don’t respect me,” I retort. “Why would you do that?!”

“It’s just that,” his smirk finally fading a bit as my emotions start to peek out, “you get worked up like this sometimes and it’s a little funny.”

At this point I’m boiling, twitching like an angry CNN political commentator. “Well, it just bothers me!”

“Okay,” he replies.

***

I admit, I was a bit worked up and defensive in this conversation. Moreover, my friend is not a disrespectful jerk. He is brilliant, honest, and caring, and in fact, one of the things I love the most: he is one of the few people who can support me while challenging me when necessary.

This is not the first time I’ve found myself upset so quickly in a conversation. And strangely, it’s usually with people I’m close with. I’ve begun to sense something deeper I need to pay attention to: there are certain beliefs about my own identity and place in the world — such as being smart, capable, or emotionally secure — that I hold onto to reinforce my own insecurities. These reinforcements are the images I maintain to show others, and myself, that I am worth paying attention to, that I mean something, that I am lovable. So, when someone begins to pick at one of these treasured qualities, I feel threatened.

As much as I would like to be validated for who I think I need to be, God loves me anyway, no matter who I am. When I forget God’s love it is my pride that holds me up; a pride that wants to be loved because I’m interesting or intelligent. But that pride is not God.

What was unique about this interaction with my friend was my ability to see through my own defensiveness and pride to uncover a gift. He was not trying to threaten me with his gentle criticism. He respected me enough to be frank, and loved me when I couldn’t do so myself. His annoying little snicker revealed a friendship not based on the fortifying qualities I lean on to lift me up in the world. It is a friendship rooted in some other unrestricted reality. While I thought I needed to be completely put together for others and myself, he didn’t need me to be, and he could even laugh about it. His unreserved acceptance helped me accept myself.

When I am old, tucked away and no longer interesting or intelligent for most people, God’s love will be there, just as my friend’s love will be, and nothing can take that away. Through God’s love I am free to be me wherever and whenever. I hope to always have friends who, with God’s grace, will stick with me as I learn to accept their love and my own. And I pray I can do so for others.

from The Jesuit Post http://bit.ly/2YK306t
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